As part of a multiyear rightsdeal with the NBCUniversal MediaLLC's NBC Sports Group, Golf Channel (US) is teeing off coverage of The Open atRoyal Troon Golf Club in Scotland from July 13-17. That marks the network'sfirst live event presentation of a major men's tournament and sets the stagefor a three-month run that will see it air Olympic coverage from Rio de Janeiro— as golf returns to the games for the first time since 1904 — followed by thePGA FedExCup Playoffs, and the biennial Ryder Cup competition. Mike McCarley,who leads the U.S. network as president of golf for NBC Sports Group, recentlydiscussed the marquee lineup, ratings and other business developments as partof a wide-ranging interview. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
SNL Kagan: What does havinglive event coverage from a men's major mean to the network?
Mike McCarley: Since becoming part of theNBC Sports Group [through ComcastCorp.'s 2011 acquisition of NBCU], there have been super-chargedinvestments in programming and in high-quality production, resulting in increased ratings.That has also led Golf Channel to its live coverage from a major. It's anatural evolution of the investments in the channel over the years … Golf Channeland NBC (US) willhave nearly 50 live hours of live coverage from The Open, the most ever plannedfor a men's major tournament, and 140 hours overall.
Your viewers are accustomedto getting up early to watch the sport.
NBCSports has made an effort to invest in the [weekend morning] daypart. TheEuropean Tour on Golf Channel, the Premier League on NBCSN (US), and the Tour de France is on now.We've seen tremendous growth in the daypart. Sports fans have been respondingin record numbers.
So you expect a strongratings performance for The Open?
We'lllook to improve on what the event has done in the past, and expect to grow thisover time.
Golf is returning to theOlympics for the first time in 112 years, but many of the leading men,including the top four in the world, are not going to compete.
It'sdisappointing, and looking back I believe they will have some level of regret.
How does Olympic golf playthrough?
It'sstroke play over four rounds. The U.S. still has four players. Some othercountries have two; others have one based on the world rankings. As for thewomen, South Korea has four. The U.S. has three, and other countries have oneor two.
So, the lack of top playersis a male phenomenon?
Havingthe women on the largest stage in sports will benefit the game tremendouslyaround the world. The flag bearer for Paraguay, Julieta Granada, is a golfer.There is a young woman from India, Aditi Ashok. In a country of 1 billionpeople where they don't have a lot of female sports role models, they're goingto have one now because golf is in the Olympics.
You're going to unleash DavidFeherty on Rio?
He'scovering The Open, the tournament he grew up on. This has been the best startof any of the six seasons of [his talk show] 'Feherty.' He has a certainpresidential candidate who owns golf courses on the show [July 18], whichhappens to be the opening night of the Republican convention. At the Olympics,I don't think he's going to get his wish to parade around Copacabana Beach in athong. But he'll be calling the golf, and adding his unique perspectives fromaround Rio to the broader shows in prime time, in late-night, and during theopening ceremony.
Are many of Golf Channel'ssponsors advertising during the network's 300 hours of Olympic coverage?
Saleshave been very strong. There are some new sponsors because of the Olympicsoverall. More traditional sponsors on Golf Channel have moved money in or haveexpanded their investment with Olympic golf.
Ratings have been strongacross the various tours, and with millennials?
Wejust had our most watched second quarter ever. That will likely be the case forthe third quarter as part of what most likely will be the most-watched year inthe history of the channel, including all those years with Tiger Woods [on thePGA Tour].
So you have struck a chordwith your NCAA men's and women's championship coverage?
GolfChannel has a largely different audience from those who have an affinity forcollege sports. There are viewers rooting for their alma mater or against thatfootball team they hate. It's a match play format, so there is a team aspect.We played the fight songs. The marching bands and the mascots were there. Webelieve this serves as an introduction as the players move into the pro ranks.We've had this for three years now and it's grown every year.
What about the otherbusinesses?
Froma TV network standpoint, we're different. You watch baseball, but you're notgoing out the next day to hit the hanging curve ball. We have a group ofincreasingly loyal viewers who have the wherewithal to play and consume theproducts they see. It's a powerful factor among advertisers, marketers anddistributors.
How about the GolfChannel Academy instructional shops?
We've added one in nearly every major market in the country,and some in Canada. It's developing well. Fans can also participate in the GolfChannel Am Tour; we have 800 amateur events around the country.